Out from the dark, a baby Orangutan

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ October 10th, 2011. Published in: Travel blog » Sabah (Malaysian Borneo).
Orangutan hand in Sepilok Sabah, Malaysia

Out from the dark, a baby orangutan hand emerges from the trees

First encounter with an Orangutan in Sepilok

Up ahead there was some commotion. About eight tourists were all staring up at the high branches to my left. I stopped, and as usual could see nothing, I never do when everybody else can. A few steps forward and another cracking of branches. I peered in the direction of the sound through the green and emerald colors.

Then, as if a part of the background, an elongated dark red hairy arm reached out to grasp a branch.

A shadow followed as another tree branch snapped. There was another rustling. Then silence before more cracking and a darkened human like face appeared from the trees above.

Baby Orangutan in the trees at Sepilok

Baby Orangutan in the trees at Sepilok (click to enlarge)

No wonder the first explorers thought Orangutans were people living in the trees.

The Malay meaning of Orang utan is literally “man of the woods,” or “forest man”

From a distance it was a persons face. A human like arm, a short body and with her … a little baby.

Mother and baby Orangutan at Sepilok

The mother and her baby were making their way to the feeding area ahead of time. And it so happens the walkway  is near a short cut to the area. Like any toddler, this one was impatient. He clambered up another tree to peer down at us. Then, taking more interest in swinging from branch to branch, tried to make his own way towards the feeding platform.

This didn’t go down to well with his mother as she shook a tall thin tree trunk nearby. The infant tried to scamper across the upper branches before crashing down several levels and causing a few tourists to jump back.

Silence followed, as the mother and child held their heads upwards as if a secret sound had been made. The two darted under the walkway and into the undergrowth.

Orangutan feeder telling people to be quite

This man's facial expression tells it like it is ...

Wait, who’s the primate on display here?

I was uplifted with the mother & baby duo. Touristy or not, there is something very moving about being this close to a primate like this.

I moved on in hope that Sepilok rehabilitation center was about to surprise me. Unfortunately, my feet ground to a halt as the viewing platform appeared. Instead of seeing Orangutans I was confronted with a throng of camera wielding tourists in mainly beige jungle fatigues.

I looked down, and to my relief I was wearing blue, and black today. Surely I was different …

Thankfully the majority of  human primates were all queuing up on the opposite side where there were two keepers sitting with a bucket of fruit. They held up signs, not that any of us obeyed them. The look on the keepers face tells it all.

Battle for the planet of the apes

Tourist frenzy was about to begin.

A clattering of camera shutters sounded like a swarm of electronic locusts.

Husbands with giant lenses lost grip of their off-spring as all sense was focused on semi-jungle warfare. Surely these would be the most original photos in the world?!

Distraught infants, disgruntled spouses, and camera-less bystanders felt the wrath of many a “photographers” pointed elbow stance as gasps of “Yea, just a minute …” became synonymous with the task at hand.

A baby Orangutan peeking through leaves in Sabah Malaysia

A baby Orangutan peeking through dark leaves in Sabah Malaysia (click to enlarge)

The only let up came from brief respites of facial sweat removal from the scorching sun beating down on our very own primate viewing platform.

I am an Alpha male …

Where was I during all this? Equally busy elbowing a portly German primate out-of-the-way as he too was blocking my way. It was that, or subject myself to being forced to the rear of our own congress.

The orangutans, seated comfortably on their raised viewing platform, and eating a bevy of healthy snacks for free; looked on at us in this the first of their twice daily showing of “the human soap opera.”

Coming soon:

Up close and face to face with the Queen of the jungle, and yes Ma’am you may rip the arms of those Korean tourists

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17 Great responses to Out from the dark, a baby Orangutan

  1. Tony says:

    Well written piece. Something rings true about the human zoo we all live in. I wonder if there’s someone looking down on us and laughing at our ways too.

  2. Anna's World says:

    Love the look of that man sitting there. Seems like he’s seen it everyday for too many days. But who could not love such a cute baby orangutan!!

  3. Malcom says:

    Long time mate, l see you’ve finally accepted yourself as a primate ha ha. Cute little fellas, they’re on the endangered list right?

  4. flipnomad says:

    amazing experience!!! im amazed that borneo has so many animals… ive seen some monitor lizards here in KK and Padang Point and a monkey too!!! so many birds as well… thinking of going to some wetlands this weekend…

    • Haven’t you got enough wetlands in the Philippines Flip :) Hope you enjoy them in KK too. Not hard to get to, but there’s only so much to do their. Lot’s of brightly colored birds to be seen, enjoy!

  5. Ivy says:

    I’m so happy to read this post! A rehabilitation center for one more endangered (but aren’t they all, like i told Malcolm) wild animal!
    Are some orangutans kept in captivity, because you are writing about a mother with her baby. I thought it was a place where orphan baby apes learned certain skills to survive in the forest.

    • Yes, Sepilok is a “rehabilitation” center. They have Orangutans who have been hurt, are sick, or made homeless by deforestation there.

      Also a lot of Orphaned babies whose parents have been killed.

      They try to rehabilitated many that are brought in. Some are too sick to ever go back. The ones that are not, are sent back to protected reserves.

      Sadly, if an orangutan is kept for too long, they won’t be able to survive well in the wild again.

      I had several interesting conversations with researchers, and PhD students there. Many had misgivings about how the place was run, but admitted that there were no other alternatives other than to sell out to a huge corporation and make a “theme park”. So, this the better option. How long it will last is anyone’s guess.

      • Ivy says:

        Yes, i was going to ad one more sentence to my post. Indeed, in the world we live in, the best alternative for wild animals is to stay in “captivity”. As i believe that at the long term captivity is going to be the best option for them because there will be no “wild” left. And who will be the endangered specie than? … “the ones taking the pictures of them, isn’t it?” … ;)

  6. hayadith says:

    i think those orang utans look at human and says..’like i care~’..:p

  7. Anis says:

    Enjoyed this!! Must make my way to Sepilok soon :)

  8. yee says:

    That last picture is really precious… Look at those eyes, so adorable!!!
    Did you get a chance to hold them? Or you’re not allowed to touch them?

    • No, you’re not allowed to hold them. There’s already too much contact between humans and orangutans, this is one of the problems with Speilok. Next week you’ll catch another photo of him, and another close up of his mother.